American cuisine has well and truly found a home in British stomachs, and the more subtle nuances of BBQ flavours, for instance, now present further opportunities for brands. Indeed, an emphasis on smoky flavours, using terminology such as “fired” and “charred” could help specialist American BBQ operators in the UK to maintain their unique selling point in the face of increased competition.

Quintessential American cuisine remains a key flavour trend in the UK

Brits are not letting go of their love for American flavours yet, a fact evident in the expansion plans for a number of specialist BBQ chains. For example, the five-strong Grill Stock barbecue chain has strengthened its pipeline of openings for 2016 by lining up locations in Cardiff, Exeter and Reading and three-strong Red Dog Saloon has confirmed regional expansion, stating it has secured a site in Nottingham and will also be opening in Southampton in 2016.

Such expansion plans indicate that the industry believes in there being on-going demand for American food trends in the UK. However, such growth will also make the sector increasingly competitive. This competition is further intensified by the continued adoption of American cuisines by generalist venues. For example, pulled chicken was added to KFC’s menus in September 2014, which the brand hailed as the “biggest overhaul to its menu in 20 years”. As well as continuing in the UK foodservice market, the Americana Mania trend has now also permeated the retail market. Products such as Boot’s The Boston Hog BBQ Pulled Pork & Beans sandwich shows how trends such as pulled pork have now become mainstream.

This suggests that specialist BBQ players will have to raise their game going forward in the increasingly competitive market place. Looking at new or less common dishes such as chicken and waffles, chowder, crawfish boils, fried lasagna bites and Chicago-style deep-dish pizza offers a means for specialist American restaurants to create standout menus.

Focus on smoky could create standout menus

Specialist BBQ players could also look to further exploit the cooking methods they use in order to differentiate themselves from generalist players encroaching on their unique product offering. For example, according to Mintel’s forthcoming Menu Flavours 2016 report, 32% of UK diners say they’d be interested in seeing/seeing more of smoky/smoked flavours on menus when eating at a restaurant or ordering takeaway.

This points to smoky flavours as a key area of BBQ cuisine which players could exploit further. As well as American food trends, smoky flavours should pair well with the current spiciness trend.

With 37% of diners saying they’d like more unique condiments in restaurants, players could use smoky flavours to hold diners interest across other parts of the menu too. For example, Red’s True BBQ are attempting to reassert their specialist standing by offering far more than just one BBQ sauce.

“Fired” and “charred” opportunities

UK operators could also take the lead from their US counterparts in terms of terminology and cooking methods to further standout in this sector.

Indeed, Mintel predicts that one of the next big cooking methods in the US for 2016 is likely to be “fired” or “charred”. Many chefs in the US are already applying the cooking methods and terminology to a wide range of menu items such as meats, vegetables and even fruits to bring out new flavours and install smokiness to the dish. Terms such as “fired” and “charred” also fit in well with the idea that specialist BBQ players should be reasserting their authenticity in the face of rising competition.

As well as fitting in with the American cuisine trend, “fired” dishes can also play a role in the current catering to the current interest in health. For example, charring vegetables is thought to bring out flavours consumers may not have experienced before, adding variety to salads and vegetable side dishes.

Helena Childe, Senior Foodservice Analyst at Mintel, is responsible for the UK Foodservice journal at Mintel, providing robust market coverage, in depth consumer research, analysis and strategic recommendations for the restaurant, pub and bar market. Helena regularly presents to clients as well as at industry and press events and frequently contributes towards articles published in the trade press, covering a wide number of foodservice topics.

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